Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
It’s not often that someone makes a 1,000-mile round trip to see a movie, but that’s what I did in the summer of ’94, along with my brother Scott and our friend Steve, when we drove from San Diego up to the Bay Area and saw the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest at the refurbished Stanford Theatre, a revival house located near Stanford University. Also joining us was another friend, also named Steve (who I’ll call Steven from this point on), who lived in San Bruno and served as our host during our five-day visit.
With plenty of free time to spare over those five days, we still had to figure out what to do before and after our night at the Stanford. Luckily, Steven had several ideas for places to go and things to do in the meantime. The major league baseball strike had begun two weeks earlier, so our hopes of attending a Giants game at Candlestick Park had been dashed, but as a consolation prize we did drive out to the quiet, desolate stadium and did some exploring along its perimeter, and braved a windy Candlestick Point pier for the sake of saying we did. We also went to the downtown area and spent time in a couple of used bookstores, and stopped at Fisherman’s Wharf for a tour of the WWII sub USS Pampanito, docked at Pier 45. And since we’d thought to bring our mitts, we found a large expanse of grass in Aquatic Park and threw the hardball around for a bit.
It was on the third day of our visit that the four of us piled into Steve’s black Mustang convertible and headed south for Palo Alto, and our evening screening at the Stanford. We parked near the university and walked to the Stanford to get tickets, then found a Round Table Pizza about a block away and went there for lunch. After checking out an arts festival down the street, we made our way back to the theater around dusk, as the neon marquee was just blinking into life, to see Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint travel cross-country in North by Northwest.
For Scott and I, it was our first—and so far only—visit to the neo-classical movie palace, which opened in 1925 and was given a six million dollar facelift in 1987. We took a quick look around the expansive lobby area, which was filled with framed movie posters and display cases full of memorabilia, then climbed a carpeted stairway up to the second floor, where we found seats in the balcony. There we got a bird’s-eye view of the renovation job, which was spectacular, and obviously worth the time and money it took to fix up. But Scott and I were surprised by how small the screen was; I guess we expected something that was big and more Cinerama-like than small and box-shaped. Still, we found a way to overcome this hardship and enjoyed the film anyway, in all its VistaVision glory.
Normally the Stanford offers two different movies on their nightly bill, but for whatever reason we chose to skip the second feature that evening, and instead went to the Embarcadero district of San Francisco, where we visited City Lights Bookstore (and had to step over a teary-eyed Courtney Love to get into the place) and had a late dinner at the Fog City Diner. And as it turned out, our night at the Stanford wasn’t our last visit to a Bay Area cinema; the following day Steven took us to the theater in Daly City where he worked, the Cineplex Odeon Plaza Twin, and treated us to an exclusive free midnight showing of the Melanie Griffith call girl comedy Milk Money, two days in advance of its national release. The four of us were the only persons in attendance, and having an entire theater to ourselves was a rare treat, but I wonder if the movie playing in the other auditorium might’ve made for a better choice, whatever it was.
So that was our great cinema road trip of 1994: two theatrical releases seen, three movies watched at home, and a handful of theatres visited for photo ops. Fortunately, the Stanford is still in business, and continues to present classic films and festivals year-round. I’d like to get back there someday, maybe for a film noir double feature (and this time stay for both movies). Steven still lives in the San Francisco area, so perhaps with a little convincing I can persuade Scott and Steve to make the 1,000-mile trip again.